Friday, November 29, 2013
A PERSONAL RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS CHRIST AS A PREREQUISITE FOR THE NEW EVANGELIZATION
As a southern pastor, who grew up in the Bible belt and had childhood friends who were not Catholic but very, very religious in terms of their own Christianity, I think I have been able to see the good character that Protestant denominations produce in their members.
One of the things that we southern Catholics know about our evangelical Protestant friends is their willingness to share their faith and more importantly, their personal relationship with Jesus Christ. For Catholics who are transplanted to the south for the first time, this is a bit off-putting because in Catholic "ghettos" of the northeast and elsewhere, religion is a private affair and one doesn't talk about it with their friends let alone with acquaintances or strangers.
After I became a priest, I would run into "former" Catholics who were brought up in the pre-Vatican II Church but had left the full communion of the Church for Protestant sects that were more pentecostal or evangelical. When I asked them why they did so, almost all of the answers revolved around discovering a personal relationship with Jesus in the denominations that friends had invited them to attend.
But it was also a community of believers, good friendship that developed in this congregations where the focus was on a personal relationship with Christ that kept them going week after week and regularly to Bible studies that were supportive. They also found "recipes" in how to live their Christian lives daily.
It seems to me that Pope Francis in his new apostolic exhortation is calling Catholics to this type of being Church but with a distinctive Catholic ecclesiology, Christology and devotional life.
When I think back on those Catholics who told me they left the Church, and how they said they did not experience a personal relationship with Christ, I wondered how this could be with our emphasis on Jesus in the Eucharist both as food and adoration for any Catholic in the world who could be present before the Lord in this way.
So how do we get Catholics, the majority of us, to be intimately in a relationship with Christ in and through the Church.
The pope seems to be pointing through several ways:
1. Through the Sacraments, Baptism, Confirmation and Holy Eucharist, shored up with frequent Confession (every two weeks!).
2. Through the popular devotions of the Church in their myriad of styles:
a. Eucharistic devotion in the form of adoration before the Blessed Sacrament and Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament
b. Christ-centered devotions, such as the Divine Mercy devotions
c. Marian devotion through the Holy Rosary and other devotions
d. devotion to the various saints
(all popular devotions apart from Benediction do not need a priest, can be very private and personal but also communal in a private sort of way
3. Bible study and on-going catechesis especially in small gatherings of the faithful or in larger parish settings
4. Service to the poor beginning at home in the family and extending to the local community and beyond
5. Sharing of one's Catholic faith through word and good works, the new evangelization and doing so with other Catholics and other people but not in a proselytizing way.
All of this is to support one of the key elements of Vatican II, that the laity are to bring the message of Christ and our way of life to the world, beginning in their homes and extending to their work and their politics.
This should encourage Catholics who lament that so many Catholics keep their Catholic Faith to themselves as a kind of medication rather than a "caffine" to kick them into high gear as it concerns not only their private lives but their public lives.
It is a word of warning to Catholics who are in power in terms of politics and employment, to care for the poor, beginning with the poorest of the poor, the innocent unborn and extending to the financially and materially poor, the sick and those who suffer in a variety of ways and extends also to the guilty such as those in prison.
This I think is the new Evangelization. It will include a variety of ways of celebrating the Mass including the Extraordinary Form and the Anglican Use. It will include inculturation but guided by the bishops and bishops' conferences (not by individual improvising priests and congregations).
At Saint Joseph Church, while we are far from perfect, I think we have been making strides in the right direction of the New Evangelization as highlighted by Pope Francis and his predecessors, Pope Benedict, Blessed Pope John Paul II and Pope Paul VI. These are our efforts:
1. Strong Catholic identity promoted through the Sacraments, especially Holy Mass in both forms and in a solemn way for both forms and the promotion of frequent Confession and times expanded to make it possible.
2. Strong popular devotions beginning with Eucharistic Adoration and Benediction, a perpetual adoration chapel with availability 24 hours a day and an open Church for the majority of day light time and Marian devotions such as the Holy Rosary and novenas
3. Service to the poor through Family Advancement Ministries, DePaul USA's Daybreak a day shelter and triage center for the homeless, the Saint Vincent dePaul Society and collaboration with ecumenical endeavors to help the homeless
4. Outreach beyond our borders with a 3rd world parish
5. assisting families in learning and living their faith together through small groups and other associations